Four Iranian Christians have reportedly been sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking wine during a communion service before Christmas last year, part of a larger crackdown on house churches in Iran.
The sentencing is just a small part of a worldwide rise in the persecution and killing of Christians, including a recent instance of Indian Christians being sentenced to life in prison for crimes others confessed to. Egypt has also become especially dangerous for Christians.
Mehdi Dadkakh, Amir Hatemi, Mehdi Reza Omidi and Behzad Taalipasand were arrested in the middle of a service last year and were not sentenced until Oct. 6. The charges relate to Iranian laws prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, even though the wine was used as part of a religious service.
“The sentences handed down to these members of the Church of Iran effectively criminalise the Christian sacrament of sharing in the Lord’s Supper and constitute an unacceptable infringement on the right to practice faith freely and peaceably,” said Mervyn Thomas, CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Thomas warned Iran to avoid potentially violating a United Nations covenant that protects the religious freedoms of people around the world.
“We urge the Iranian authorities to ensure that the nation’s legal practices and procedures do not contradict its international obligation under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to guarantee the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief by all of its religious communities,” Thomas said, according to the Independent.
Ahmed Shaheed, United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran, recently dealt with some of the problems faced by Christians and other religious groups in Iran.
“In addition, violations of the rights of Christians, particularly those belonging to evangelical Protestant groups, many of whom are converts, who proselytize to and serve Iranian Christians of Muslim background, continue to be reported,” Shaheed wrote.
Iranian authorities reportedly force the licensed Protestant churches in Iran to “restrict Persian-speaking and Muslim-born Iranians from participating in services, and raids and forced closures of house churches are ongoing.”
Over 300 Christians have been arrested since 2010, Shaheed wrote. Dozens of church leaders and others active in the Christian community have reportedly been arrested and convicted of national security crimes directly connected to their church activities.
Such national security crimes reportedly involve organizing prayer groups, proselytizing and attending Christian seminars outside of Iran.
However, the Iranian government maintains that one’s religion is not taken into account during the judicial process and that Christians are equal before the law, according to Shaheed.
The Iranian government officially responded to the draft of Shaheed’s report, stating that “the mere belief in a religion including Christianity does not account for criminal prosecution of the follower of a religion except when the latter is engaged in an illegality.”
Press TV quoted an Iranian diplomat who said that Shaheed’s report “has not paid sufficient notice to Iran’s legal system and Islamic culture and considers whatever he sees in the West as an international standard for the entire world.”
The Iranian diplomat said that Iran is “the anchor of human rights and religious democracy in a region infested by extremism, terrorism and despotic regimes,” according to Press TV.
“It should be no surprise that Iran’s human rights record as documented by the UN is nothing short of atrocious,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to Fox News.
“If the regime thinks that its international charm offensive will help whitewash its appalling human rights record as documented by the UN report, they are sorely mistaken,” Engel said.
The four Christians have ten days to appeal their verdict.
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